How Working From Home will Impact your Customer Service Operations
Many of us are now working from home for the first time. In light of the global pandemic, companies have handed out laptops, closed down their offices and transitioned to being fully remote.
It’s certainly not the ideal way to dip a toe into the remote workforce. However, for those of us that are lucky enough to have the opportunity, working from home means we can continue to support our customers and earn a living.
The biggest mistake you can make during this transition is to approach working from home as just another day in the office. Even if the world wasn’t facing a global pandemic, the switch to working remotely can have a big impact on customer service processes that is where the remote customer support software comes into the picture.
Also, here are three major challenges you’ll need to overcome (along with some solutions from people who’ve been doing this for a while!).
1. Directing the flow of information
One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is finding a new way to share information. You can’t walk over to someone’s desk with a question. If you need to have a discussion, you can’t just gather in the meeting room for a quick huddle. So –
– Write things down!
Communicating asynchronously (where everyone doesn’t need to be online at the same time) can make for big improvements in productivity. It also gives people time to process and think about strategy before replying.
The productivity boost from working remotely does not come from replacing all those in-office meetings with a bunch of video calls. It comes from turning all those meetings into write-ups instead. Status updates, pitches, ideas. Write. Them. Down.
— DHH (@dhh) March 10, 2020
Write down status updates, move stand-up meetings to text-based formats, and create process documents. If your team works 24/7, create shift handoffs to communicate any changes that occurred over the shift. Document everything in text, and you’ll be in a much better position for the next time you need to work remotely.
“Peripheral communication happens accidentally in an office. We usually know what our coworkers are doing because we overhear snippets of conversation, we celebrate triumphs, or we see them struggling.” – Jeff Robins, Yonder.io
When you’re working from home, you don’t have the benefit of peripheral communication. Instead, you’re only privy to conversations that include you on purpose. Conversations in DMs or ones that happen during a 1:1 meeting can easily be forgotten or swept away in the chaos.
Finding ways to overcommunicate – whether it’s praise, feedback, processes, updates, schedules or personal news – is essential to keeping the remote office running smoothly.
At Peak Support, a 100% remote customer service outsourcing company, we have a lot of different strategies for this. A key tactic is our weekly all-company huddle, which is usually chat-based but sometimes a video call. A different team lead leads it every week. Sometimes we cover work-based updates, introduce new hires, or give awards. But sometimes the team lead picks a topic like “Who inspires you?” and asks team members to share their stories.
We also give shout-outs over Slack whenever we can. And on Fridays, we try to send an update to our leadership Slack channel with some key successes from the week. We don’t always do it; sometimes other work gets in the way. But it’s really valuable when we do.
– Purposefully be present
In an office environment, there are so many ways that we casually interact with our coworkers. From chatting around the water-cooler, to grabbing lunch together, to just exchanging a smile as you walk to your next meeting – all of these social interactions are critical for a happy, healthy work relationship.
When you’re working remotely, these interactions are just as important, but they must be purposefully created. Taking the time to check-in on your coworkers, have small talk, and share jokes can keep the mood light and work productive.
8. COMMUNICATION: OVERSHARING⁰
it’s hard being human over text and over camera. dedicate time for social norms. have small talk. show people you care. communicate your state. be kind. resolve tensions by speaking about them. don’t let misunderstandings settle.
— SIMD Crawford (@omershapira) March 8, 2020
– Get on video
Working entirely in text can mean that body language cues go unnoticed. If you’re feeling tense or annoyed by someone’s email or chat, get on a video conferencing tool like Zoom and talk it out. It’s easy to breed resentment when you’re home alone and no-one can see you seething. You need to be direct about what your needs are, and how you’re feeling.
My advice for newbies to #remotework… If someone’s tone, comment, intention, etc., rubs you the wrong way in email, text, or Slack, PICK UP THE PHONE. Don’t let being annoyed or hurt ruin a working relationship. Always, always pick up the phone and have a conversation.
— Amy Johnson is staying at home (@amjinjo) March 11, 2020
Using video calls will also help you actually see if someone is sick, or stressed, or otherwise having a hard time. That’s particularly important now. Don’t worry if you’re in your pajamas. Just brush your hair and put on a clean shirt, and you’ll be fine.
At Peak Support, we declared 2019 the year of video. Almost all of our internal and external calls are now video calls, and it makes a huge difference. One of our team leads, Chel, wrote recently about how it helped her build a closer relationship with her client. When they met in person for the first time, after working together for two years, they didn’t feel like strangers.
2. Maintaining security
Many people have asked us how to handle security in a remote environment. The short answer is – the same way as you would in an in-office environment. Security is all about three things: technology, processes, and people. While this has different implications in a work-from-home environment, the principles are the same.
– Get the basics in place
If your team members have laptops they can take home, then they’ll already have the right antivirus software installed, password protection, etc. If they’re working from their home computers, consider bringing those computers on to your security network. It’s more complex and you may have to limit some of their personal activities. In addition, make sure they understand they need to password-protect their home WiFi. You can also set up a remote desktop or VPN, of course. But this can be complicated for a customer support team, particularly if you do phone support, as VPNs don’t work well for voice or video calls.
– Revisit your security policies and training material
You’ll need to take another look at your security policies and training to make sure they cover this scenario. Do you have policies around remote work already? Examples include:
- Do you allow team members to work on their phones?
- If so, do you have mobile phone management in place?
- Do your team members know what to do if their laptop or phone is lost or stolen? (This is unlikely if no one’s leaving the house, of course, but it’s an important piece of a teleworking policy.)
In addition, think about your policies on downloading data. Ideally, the best approach is to use the permissions in your helpdesk to limit most team members’ ability to download data. If you can’t do that, make sure your team members know when to download data, where to store it, and when and how to delete it.
A training company like Infosec IQ can help your team quickly get up to speed. They have hundreds of pre-built training templates on all topics, including telework.
– Consider using technology to monitor remote computers
This will be a non-starter for some companies, so handle this suggestion with care. If you have security concerns, consider adopting software that will take screenshots of your team members’ computers and/or monitor in other ways.
The point is not to be Big Brother and monitor all activity. But there may be certain things you can review to reduce security risks. In addition, it’s good to have the data, just in case something goes wrong and you have to investigate.
3. Taking care of yourself
While working from home might feel like a breath of fresh air and freedom to start with, it can quickly become a recipe for burnout and loss of productivity. When you can’t leave your work at the office, or your personal life at home, you need to find a good way to balance them both. Here are three things to remember:
– Set Boundaries
- Use the status updates on Slack or other chat programs to show when you are not online or don’t want to be interrupted.
- Take notifications off your phone. You want to be able to go for a walk or eat lunch without getting pinged.
- Keep the same working hours – don’t let your work overflow into the evening just because the computer is around.
- Talk to your family about what you need from them. Show your kids what you do while you work. Ask for distraction-free time – but make it easier by setting up your work area away from common spaces if possible.
– Stay Social
- During a break, take a walk and call a friend you haven’t talked with in a while
- Hold virtual “coffee breaks” or “happy hours” where everyone can join in with a beverage of their choice and talk about non-work topics.
- Have a virtual party. We have one client that will give each team member a micro-bonus, equivalent to the cost of a frozen yogurt. In the office, you can just order frozen yogurt for everyone; this is the remote equivalent.
– Be Healthy
- Go outside, if you’re not in an area that’s locked down. A walk around the block – even if it’s just five minutes – can be a great way to ward off cabin fever.
- Take advantage of online exercise classes. If you have a fitness tracker, try to get as many steps or burn as many calories as you would in normal times.
- Feel your feelings. This is a stressful time, and the news can be overwhelming. It’s okay to be a little anxious.
Resources for those new to working from home
- Alan Berkson, the global director of community outreach and analyst relations at Freshworks, shared some “Best Practices on Working from Home”
- Jamie Varon has created a helpful “Work From Home Survival Guide” that you can download for free.
- Treehouse has made their entire “Workplace Skills: Working Remotely” course free to everyone.
Whether you’re transitioning from an onsite workforce to a remote team, or are planning to set up a 100% remote workforce, these recommendations should hold you in good stead. As Karen Harris, managing director of consultancy Bain’s Macro Trends Group says, “Once effective work-from-home policies are established, they are likely to stick.”
Take the time to implement policies that will set your remote workforce up for success in the long term. Once you’ve experienced the freedom of working from home, you might choose to do it more often!
About the author: Hannah Steiman is Chief Operating Officer of Peak Support, a customer service outsourcing company serving high-growth companies.